The comedy of terror : 'Gary: Tank Commander' and the TV sitcom's "discourse of impropriety"

Bennett, Bruce (2015) The comedy of terror : 'Gary: Tank Commander' and the TV sitcom's "discourse of impropriety". In: The 'War on Terror' : post -11 television drama, docudrama and documentary. Contemporary Landmark Television . University of Wales Press, Cardiff. ISBN 9781783162451

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Reflecting on the predominantly solemn cinematic response to the September 11th attacks, Ryan Gilbey observes that ‘defiant comedy is surely one of the sharpest weapons at our disposal’ (Gilbey, 2011, 52). Within the deluge of popular representations generated by the war on terror, however, a small number of comic and satiric film and accounts have emerged, including Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo (2008, Hurwitz, Schlossberg), In the Loop (Iannucci, 2009), Four Lions (Morris, 2010) and Team America: World Police (Parker, 2004). This chapter discusses the UK TV comedy, Gary’s War and the two subsequent series, Gary: Tank Commander. Focusing on Gary McLintoch, a camp Scottish soldier who has fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, and his interaction with officers, colleagues, and friends, the programmes parody the conventions of both sober documentary television, embedded reportage and those realist dramas that privilege the first-hand experience of the soldier. This chapter asks what the function of comedy is in the face of the atrocities and quotidian horrors of the war on terror, and whether comedy offers a platform for subversion and criticism in its refusal to take seriously and reproduce the liberal anxieties, melodramatic urgency, ideological conservatism and earnest documentary realism of dramas such as Generation Kill, Occupation and Britz, or documentaries such as Armadillo: Frontline Afghanistan (Pedersen, 2010), Our War and Restrepo (Hetherington, Junger, 2010) . This chapter also asks whether the foregrounding of a camp protagonist can be understood as a parodic critique of the consensual retrenchment of reactionary masculinities that underpin many ‘war on terror’ dramas. The TV series can be situated in a tradition of comedies about reluctant and incompetent soldiering and the everyday homosocial experience of (army) camp life that encompasses Shoulder Arms (Chaplin, 1918), Carry on Sergeant (Thomas, 1958), The Phil Silvers Show (1955-59), Dad’s Army (1968-77), and It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum (1974-81). In concentrating upon the trivial frustrations, tensions and tedium of life on a military base in Scotland, the programmes also eschew the breathless, sensational fascination with the immersive spectacle of battle and, in doing so, prompt reflections upon questions of national and regional identity, class relations, and the normalcy of militarisation and heightened security. The discussion of these series is framed by the broader question of the ‘social signification’ (Bergson) of comedy in the face of terror and the extent to which laughter in response to what Freud terms ‘tendentious jokes’ is here a potential mode of intellectual and political resistance. The chapter asks whether, in their refusal to reproduce the solemnities of ‘serious’ film and TV drama, and the refusal of certain taboos these TV comedies constitute a valuable critique of the limited and restrictive terms of representation that have emerged as the dominant conventions through which this global conflict is depicted in mainstream media representations.

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19 Sep 2012 11:44
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16 Jul 2024 02:55